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So.   I have a tendency to get low grades on english papers for some reason.   Usually because I tend not to answer the question and instead focus on psychological philosophical shit I'd rather think about / found more important.   Hover this time, I have been blessed to have a topic CENTERED around philosophy as I got to analys the Oedipus Complex in relation to shakespeare's Hamlet. 


Here's the paper:   You psychoanalysts out there, sorry If my analysis is a little off point, I did the best I could.  

Without futher ado (or much ado) about nothing, 

My Attempt to dabble in psychoanalysis and interpretation of Lacan as applied to Hamlet. 

Desire and the Oedipus Complex in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Hamlet  is  not only one of the greatest plays of the Elizabethan era, but also a tragic story of repressed desire turned to inner ressentiment which serves as a classic example of Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex.   As the story of hamlet unfurls, we see the development of a tragic hero shadowed by the Oedipus complex.   In order to better qualify this assertion, we must first understand what exactly is meant by Freud’s Oedipus Complex and secondly analyze and apply this fundamental theory to the chronological development of Hamlet as a tragic hero.

Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex argues that a young child has a strong sexual attraction towards his mother and competes with his father for her sexual attention.   The Oedipus Complex as applied to hamlet follows a perversion of this rivalry: often the child feels overwhelmed by the overpowering masculinity of his father and he ceases to compete with him realizing he’s always second in line.   With no other choice, the child is forced to repress his sexual desire which signaling the development a super-ego to counter act the ego in the actualization of perverted sexual desire.   In applying this theory to Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Hamlet – one may begin to wonder why Freud didn’t title his theory the ‘hamlet complex’ as it presents a much more realistic account of his theory:  focusing on the effects of repressed desire has on Hamlets ability to maintain his composition as a rational actor.  

As the story opens, we find that even prior to learning about his uncles dastardly involvement in his fathers death – Hamlet is disgusted and deeply troubled by his mother’s decision to take his hand in marriage.   Meanwhile, his uncle works tirelessly to take his departed fathers place as a fatherly figure of nobility in Hamlets life.   In fact, seeing Hamlet upset sparks Claudius to urge Hamlet to “stay near” as he is “next in line for the throne” and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to the future king of Denmark.   The irony in this is that Claudius accomplishes the opposite of what he seeks as he places his-self in front of Hamlet in line for the throne.   In a Freudian sense, the throne is symbolic of a sense of closeness to the queen,  (not so) coincidentally his mother.  This marks the exposition of Hamlet’s Oedipus complex as his fathers death is supposed to mark his ascendance to his father’s position as his mothers lover and protector,   however since Claudius’ sneakily takes his father’s hamlet feels cheated and grows envious of his mother’s new man.   As the act closes, we see Hamlet overcome with resentment as he contemplates suicide he feels hapless and vulnerable in sexually repressed state.

Psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan makes an interesting argument for the Oedipus complex as applied to Shakespeare’s hamlet he argues that “The desire, of his mother, is essentially manifested in …”[the] confront[ation] on one hand with an eminent, idealized, exalted object – his father – and on the other with the degraded, despicable object Claudius, the criminal and adulterous brother, [which] Hamlet does not choose.”  Hamlets overwhelming love for his mother and hatred of Claudius causes Hamlet  to “waver in his abjuration of his mother.” and defuse all responsibility in the incestuous act upon Claudius, as the primal villain in Hamlets unconscious ego. (Lacan 3)   Lacan further notes that Hamlet’s disposition against Claudius is due to the fact that “his mother does not choose [Claudius] …[she is instead attracted to him]because of [an] instinct[ual] voracity… The sacrosanct genital objects … appear to her as an…objet d’une jouissancce… in what is truly the direct satisfaction of her need, and nothing else,” Further rationalizing her actions from Hamlet’s perspective.  (3-4)  

A major turning point for Hamlet is as he learns the “truth” about his father’s death as revealed by his father’s ghastly figure.   As act I scene IV unfurls, the ghost of hamlet reveals his mysterious death was in fact a homicide committed by none other than Claudius, who poisoned him in is sleep.   He then urges hamlet to avenge his death by taking revenge on his dastardly brother, Claudius –but also explains that he must not hurt his mother.    From a psychoanalytical standpoint, the ghost of hamlets father represents his Ego: which leads him to rationalize hurting Claudius and not his mother, a predictable condition of his psychological precondition.

            What is often ignored by many theories of Hamlet’s Oedipus complex is that although his actions are primarily driven by his repressed desire for his mother, his father also plays an important role in the development of the fantasy.  David Kastan argues that Hamlet definitely feels a type of labinal attachment to his father; warranting that “Hamlet cannot name himself without simultaneously naming his father… his fathers name [becomes] “bound to [him]” and finally [“bound to revenge”] … [and thus hamlet] is bound to… his fathers cause” (Kastan 1)  As a result, Hamlet’s identity becomes solely created by his desire for revenge against his father’s killer and his loyalty to his mother, “he would be the only the son, sworn to remember and revenge his father.”  (Kastan 1)  This overwhelming love for his mother and vengeful longing for revenge for his father born out of his ressentiment creates the perfect ethical cause for the tragic hero, Hamlet – prince, and avenger, of Denmark.   

The establishment of Hamlets ethical role is apparent as he cries “Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial…records… [so] that youth…be copied there,  And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmixed with baser matter.“ (99-104)  This is precisely what Lacan would call the perversion of the phantasmal order in the creation of the fantasy.   He argues that “the fantasy… [is] paradoxical… [On] one hone hand the end term is desire, and on the other hand… it’s…located in the conscious” (Lacan  5)  This fundamental theory helps to explain Hamlet’s continual struggle with his super-ego –.    Hamlet’s outcry signals his return to his childhood obligations, the inversion of the super-ego is complete as Hamlet finds a new ethical cause by which to live his life.   even after his commitment to a new ethical cause Shakespeare’s comparison to the bible seems to signal that like Christ, Hamlet too becomes a martyr for his cause.   However, The difference between hamlet and Christ is that Hamlet lives by no moral order:  he feels justified in doing anything and everything to satisfy his inner ego.   Lacan further notes that “insofar as the fantasy marks every human passion… perverse… it appears in a sufficiently paradoxical form to… have motivated the rejection of the phantasmic dimension as being on the order of the absurd.” (Lacan 5)   The absurdity that ensues hamlet’s perversion of moral and biblical order is the very absurdity that characterizes the original fantasy of unity with his mother and vengeance for his father who he now aware of his instinctual interconnectivity to. No longer living by the book of piety and weakness that had entrenched his identity– He returns to his most innate primal instinct:  love for his mother, and vengeance for his father.  

Learning the truth has a magnanimous affect on his mental stability, as it exposes the inherent disjunction between his desire to maintain his biblical sanctity as the prince of Denmark and his desire to avenge his father’s death – causing hamlet to violently snaps back and forth between a dimension of rationality and irrationally.  The forces that were once repressed by his super-ego discharge in an irrational manner as his ressentiment turns outwards and he begins to lash out at everyone he loves, even raising his voice at his beloved mother.  Then suddenly he loses all ability to cope with the world and descends into a deep depression in which everything seems meaningless, he begins to question his own ontological being:  “to be or not to be… that is the question.  .” (54-55)   His subjectivity in question, Hamlet falls back upon his logic to create an ethical justification for violence against his stepfather; his plan: to develop a litmus test to determine Claudius’ Guilt.

As he becomes sure of Claudius’ guilt, many critics of my position argue that hamlet , being so desperate to kill Claudius, should have taken any opportunity to do it.   Since  Hamlet does indeed pass off an opportunity to kill Claudius in prayer, critics believe the theory of a new Hamlet born out of ressentiment to be falsified.  However what is ignored is that due to the very the nature of revenge, which Kastan argues “… is a desperate mode of imitation…[in which] The revenger is…allowed only to re-act to –and re re-enact – the original crime, ” (3) the inner ressentiment that now consumes Hamlet presents a more logical explanation of his decision to wait.   That is, his delay can only be understood as a last grapple between the ego and the super-ego, a battle between the pious rational actor within hamlet and his overwhelming desire to take revenge on Claudius.   Shakespeare creates the perfect setting to express the inner struggle Hamlet undergoes by alludes to the perversion of the moral fantasy as he  presented with the opportunity of murdering Claudius in prayer, but refuses to take it.  Kaston concludes that his refusal is an indication of “[a] resistance to accept his imitative relation… to his father who urges him to revenge” further revealing an underlying complexity of Hamlet’s Oedipus Complex. (Kastan 3)  

            Hamlet’s final hour is perhaps most revealing as what remains throughout most of the play an inner conflict is given a means to physically discharge, his super-ego is overcome by his ego and his innate desire as his life is pitted against that of Leartes.    Interestingly enough, Hamlet enters the competition on the side of his enemy, and has absolutely nothing to gain from it besides a title of nobility and honor.   However what Hamlet remains blind to is that he is entering into “the most serious of games… a game [in which] he will lose his life in spite of himself.” (Lacan 20)    The spirit of the Martyr is clearly present as the conditions of the tournament express “the very nature of the fantasy” as Leartes proves to be his mirror double. (Lacan 20)   Lacan warrants that “the basis of aggressivity… [is situated] in the imaginary register… the one you admire most… [is] the one you have to kill.” (Lacan 21) Furthermore, the fact that Hamlet’s inner desire to murder Claudius does not surface until he learns about the death of his mother further at the hands of Claudius and of his secret ploy to poison Hamlet which Leartes regrettably informs him of further reveals that his thirst for vengeance is born out of the irrationality that subsumes him in the actualization of his Oedipal desires.  Hamlet proves to be a true martyr for his perverted phantasmal order as with his final breaths, he avenges his father and satisfies his desire for closeness with his mother – even in death.    His revenge upon his father presents a bitter-sweet irony that no Shakespearian tragic hero would be complete without, as he impales Claudius with the very double-edged sword that killed Leartes, and now ushers in his death, on the very throne on which his father once sat and force-feeds him  the very poisoned wine responsible for his mothers downfall.   In his death, Shakespeare’s tragic fantasy is complete, as Hamlet satisfies his call to ethical violence and proves to be true a martyr for his cause.   



~Shikhar

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